That's A Wrap!

BIRMINGHAM | Wednesday, September 21, 2005

At Roly Poly University, there is no football team. No marching band, no fight song, no cheerleading squad either. There is the occasional cheering on, though, as the newly-opened school's professors of rol-ology, John Giffin and his father, Jim Giffin, rate the progress of their first students, Catherine Kelly of Fort Myers, Fla., and Todd Zwirschitz of Appleton, Wis. " They're doing great," Jim says last Wednesday, as Todd mans the cash register and Catherine takes a catering order by phone at Roly Poly in downtown Birmingham. Jim and John Giffin own two of the rolled-tortilla sandwich restaurants, downtown and Southside, and are master developers, responsible for training and support, for Roly Poly franchises in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee. Roly Poly University (RPU, to those in the know) is the brainchild of the elder Giffin, who approached the company's founders, Julie Reed and Linda Wolf of Key West, Fla., with the idea of teaching potential franchisees nationwide the ins and outs of owning, or managing, a Roly Poly restaurant. The week-long sessions, which the Giffins plan to conduct monthly, are held mainly at the downtown restaurant, and above the restaurant on the second floor, in a brand-new classroom in the 120-year-old building. The days are long, typically 12 hours, and the work hard, the students say. They were forewarned, though, in a letter that their Magic City visit would not be a vacation. " In general, your time in Birmingham will be consumed by Roly Poly," the letter says. "You will have very little time for anything else." Homework not a joke: It was no piece of cake before their first day of class either, because the Giffins also sent pre-arrival assignments such as: Know your sandwiches, names and numbers. (For Roly Poly novices, the 50-plus sandwiches on the menu are identified by numerals.) Know the ingredients for the 10 most popular sandwiches, and be prepared to list them in the order the ingredients should be placed on the tortilla. There were franchise agreements, operations manuals and dozens of Roly Poly abbreviations (M&M for mayo and mustard, for example) to learn as well. The students, both veterans in the restaurant business, arrived Sept. 10. The following morning, they were tested on their sandwich-names-and-numbers knowledge. The deal was, if they didn't pass, they'd have to repeat it until they mastered 80-percent of the menu. Let's just say they didn't ace the tests on the first try. After the tests, teachers and students headed to the restaurant kitchen, where a series of waist-high refrigerators and plastic containers hold the ingredients that make a Roly Poly : avocado slices, sundried tomatoes and cashews, meats such as smoked turkey and steak, and cheeses ranging from plain-old American to French brie. John demonstrates how to make a Roly Poly by laying out a tortilla on a cutting board, then layering slices of chicken breast, jalapeno jack cheese, onion, tomato, ranch dressing to make a Santa Fe Chicken (No. 28), "the most popular sandwich on the menu board," Jim says. John gently rolls the sandwich, then lays it on the grill. Cold sandwiches are rolled differently. " Cold sandwiches are a very tight roll," Jim says. "You don't want the ingredients running out on (a customer's) suit." The students also learn the proper way to slice meats and cheeses, and how to care for the slicer. " Never put your slicer under water," John says, then offers a bit of black humor. "If you ever see an employee do that, smack `em in the back of the head." While they work, the students and teachers discuss sandwiches. Some sandwiches, such as Thanksgiving (No. 9), know no season. " Even if it's not Thanksgiving, we sell a lot of it," John says, then realizes this a perfect teaching opportunity. "We've got two sandwiches with stuffing. Do you know which ones those are?" " Thanksgiving!" Catherine replies. " Yes, Thanksgiving is one of them," John says. Spinach Stuffer (No. 43), he tells them, is the other. They also discuss the ins and outs of a successful franchise, such as setting goals, taking care of the customers and not skimping on ingredients, such as artichoke hearts. " You might think, `Hmm, if I put five artichokes on a sandwich, that costs a lot," John says. "But if you don't put five artichokes on the sandwich, the customer won't come back." Last Friday, Catherine gets up close and personal with a No. 37 (Chicken Cordon Bleu). She squirts basil mayo on a tortilla, follows with three slices of Swiss cheese, then peeks at the menu board to see what comes next. " I still have to look at the ingredients, but it's coming," she says. | Next she layers chicken, ham and sliced mushrooms on the sandwich. " Oops," she says, "they didn't want mushrooms." After the lunch-time rush, and before they head out on a "field trip" to visit some of the other Birmingham-area Roly Poly restaurants, Todd briefly lays down on the floor of the classroom, stretches his back and reviews the previous week. " It's a lot more intense than I thought it would be," he says. Catherine sits at her desk, chin in hand, and sighs. "I'm tired, very tired. I can't wait to get home." Nevertheless, they're happy with their scores from that morning's sandwiches-names-and-numbers test. " I got 95!" Catherine says, while Todd offers, "I passed." And they both say it'll all be worth it when they're at the helm of their very own Roly Poly restaurants. " It's the kind of food I want to serve, to eat," Catherine says. Todd concurs: "I'm still excited about the business." E-mail: [email protected] Roly Poly, Page XX -- ROLY POLY: Sandwich business is serious business

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